Knowing his team was without its two best players, Atlanta Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan wrote the word “Believe” on the board prior to Friday’s game. The motivation worked, but now the Hawks will need a similar — or better — effort on Sunday night when they host the Milwaukee Bucks in a match between two playoff contenders.
The Bucks (37-22) were sparked by a 34-10 run and defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 132-94 on Saturday. Milwaukee is in third place in the NBA’s Eastern Conference but drew to within 1 1/2 games of the second-place Sixers by beating them in back-to-back games. The Bucks have won five of their past seven.
The Hawks are 33-27 after beating the Miami Heat 118-103 on Friday. Atlanta is in fifth place in the East, a half-game behind the streaking New York Knicks. Atlanta is trying to nail down its first playoff spot since 2017. Atlanta is 19-7 since March 1, the third-best record in the NBA during that time.
Atlanta played without leading scorer Trae Young and top rebounder Clint Capela on Friday. Young, who averages 25.3 points, is out with a grade 2 left ankle sprain that doctors say typically requires two to four weeks of recovery. Capela, who averages 15.7 points and 14.7 rebounds, is dealing with a back contusion and is listed as questionable.
“For us to be short-handed and be able to do that against a very good Miami team, again, believe in what you’re talking about,” McMillan said. “If we do and we do it together, you’re going to give yourself a chance to win the game.”
Atlanta’s reserves produced 51 points, including 17 from Danilo Gallinari, who had missed the six previous games with right foot soreness.
“This playoff race is so tight,” said rookie Onyeka Okongwu, who started at center in place of Capela. “We just did what we had to do to come together and just play good defense and play overall good basketball in the fourth quarter.”
Veteran Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 21 points in the win. He is averaging 4.4 made 3-pointers and 21.6 points over the past 10 games for Atlanta.
The Bucks are one of the healthier teams in the league and report no injuries. Since missing six games with left knee soreness, Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 25.4 points and 10.8 rebounds.
“I think playing teams like (the Sixers), back-to-back, it’s awesome because it prepares you for the playoffs,” Antetokounmpo said.
Antetokounmpo scored 24 points in Saturday’s win and reached the 12,000 career-point plateau. His 12,023 career total surpassed Glenn Robinson’s 12,010 and trails only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (14,211) in franchise history.
The Bucks have taken the past six meetings with the Hawks. Milwaukee won 129-115 on Jan. 24 at home and 120-109 on April 15 in Atlanta. The second meeting was a one-point game midway through the third quarter before the Bucks pulled away.
The Bucks are coached by Mike Budenholzer, who spent five seasons as the head man in Atlanta and was the coach in 2017 when the Hawks made their most recent playoff appearance.
–Field Level Media